Monday, March 10, 2014

Fixing The Tinkercad Ruler

Mac & Cheese – Bob Krause
The purpose of the Tinkercad ruler has never been explained. All the original team could say in their May, 2012 blog post announcing the ruler was, " best to explain what this new feature does? Visually, of course! Click on the image to see a larger view." That's it.

I believe that the ruler's never been explained because it hasn't been well thought-out. Is it useful? Certainly. But it's also very "information noisy". The amount of information the ruler shows about the current selection is often more than users expect, want or can make sense of. This is particularly true of young and inexperienced users.

I contend that the ruler has been overburdened and that its function should be separated into two different tools and that the options available when positioning the ruler be expanded.

The ruler should display the distance between it’s origin and the current selection, but NOT also show the dimensions of the selection. I further believe that the user should be able to rotate the orientation of the ruler without having to dismiss the ruler, rotate the canvas and then re-place the ruler. Additionally, while the ruler is being placed Tinkercad should recognize the use of modifier keys to indicate either that the position of the ruler should ignore the current snap grid setting, perhaps using the shift key, or that the position of the ruler should magnetically snap to the edge of a shape within a certain distance, perhaps using the alt key.

A different tool, call it the "dimension tool", should be used to show the dimensions of the selection. Though, because the location of a dimension tool wouldn’t affect the display of that information, perhaps this dimensioning feature should be a mode of the canvas. If presented as a mode, under no circumstances should it be necessary for the user to open the "Edit Grid” dialogue to change modes, both because the dimensioning mode shouldn't necessarily be persistent and because the dialogue is too inaccessible from the mainline workflow.

Fix the ruler. Distance and dimensioning are orthogonal and not sufficiently inter-related to be conjoined as they are.


  1. Hi - I'm a teacher in NYC who recently started teaching a 3D Modeling class at my high school. I'm writing lesson that involves heavy use of the ruler and have been researching it a good bit. I agree entirely in that the ruler provides too much information at once. I'm not sure if it should be split into two tools, but at the very least it would be great to code a UI experience where object dimensions are clearly differentiated from position information.

    I think you'll be happy to know, I did find a way to change the orientation today without having to dismiss the ruler! It's super easy to miss, but if you click different 'quadrants' of the circle (the one that's used to reposition the ruler), you reorient the ruler. Super great shortcut - super well disguised by its designers.

    Glad I stumbled on this blog today - I'll check in more often!


    PS. Here's the last bit of officially published info on the ruler from TinkerCAD (the toggle between center/corner position info is another great hidden feature!):

    1. Thanks for the tips about how to reorientate the ruler and how to toggle distance measures either from the corner or from the center. I always wondered what that little triangle was.

      I'm curious about how your students are taking to your 3D class so far. What grades are you drawing from? Will student projects be sent out for printing, or do you have a printer on campus?

  2. the ruler tool need to be separated into 2 tools. The one in Sketchup works great! take note. Clicking in circle as described above does nothing.

  3. Clicking on the circle works for me. And no need to point to any particular quadrant, just hover over the circle until it turns red, then every click will rotate the ruler 90°.